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Emancipation of College Students and College Contributions in New Jersey

We have previously discussed the process of emancipation in New Jersey, which included the various factors a court considers when determining whether or not a child should be emancipated. A common issue is the emancipation of college-age children, because children in college are likely to be over the age of majority, but still dependent on their parents as full-time students.

Several cases in New Jersey have addressed this specific instance. Newburgh v. Arrigo, the leading case in the area of emancipation, states that “the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” Several other cases, including Gac v. Gac, Patetta v. Patetta, Limbert v. Limbert and Moehring v. Moehring have all stated that a child’s full-time attendance in postsecondary education may be a basis to delay emancipation, because, even though parents are not generally required to support a child over eighteen, the child’s enrollment in a full-time educational program has been held to require continued support.

Therefore, a child attending college on a full-time basis is not likely to be emancipated from their parents due to their dependent status while still in school.

Now, because a child that is attending college is unlikely to be emancipated, what are the expectations of divorced parents in supporting their child through college?

Fortunately, in Newburgh v. Arrigo, Justice Pollock set out a list of twelve factors that a court should consider in evaluating a claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education. These factors are as follows:

  1. Whether the parent, if he/she was still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;

  2. The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;

  3. The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;

  4. The ability of the parent to pay that cost;

  5. The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;

  6. The financial resources of both parents;

  7. The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;

  8. The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;

  9. The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;

  10. The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;

  11. The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and,

  12. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

There are no published cases in New Jersey that have applied each one of these factors in a single case, but many published cases have referred to these factors as the criteria for determining college contribution. There are, however, more recent unpublished cases that have applied the factors.

For example, in a May 2015 unpublished case, Iraldi v. Iraldi, the Plaintiff father appealed a variety of issues following the final judgment of divorce, including college and graduate school costs. Addressing the college issue, the Appellate Court referred back to the Newburgh factors, specifically stating that because Plaintiff and Defendant clearly anticipated that their child would attend college, and because Plaintiff did not provide any evidence that he was financially incapable of supporting his child through college, Plaintiff was required by the court to pay for his child’s higher educational costs.

The Newburgh factors listed require a fact-intensive inquiry, and can be applied differently based upon each case. Therefore, anyone pursuing a college contribution action following a divorce should consult with an experienced family law attorney.

COPYRIGHT © 2020, STARK & STARKNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 281

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A divorce creates profound stress and often precipitates many other major life changes. Stark & Stark's Divorce Group is dedicated exclusively to helping individuals undergoing divorce and related matrimonial problems throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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